The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) faces fresh legal action over its failure to tackle pollution in England’s rivers.
The case which was originally brought to court in 2015 by WWF, Angling Trust and Fish Legal, highlights Defra’s failure to use ‘water protection zones’ – a regulatory power available to them since 2009 – to actively combat diffuse agricultural pollution.
The three claimants are taking DEFRA and the Environment Agency back to court today because they have failed to comply with a court order for over 5 years.
The legal action comes in the wake of the publication of a new report from 16 global conservation charities which exposed the dire outlook for the world’s populations of freshwater fish.
Burbot and sturgeon have disappeared from UK freshwater and salmon have suffered significant declines since the 1960s.
According to the report, much of that decline is driven by the poor state of freshwater habitats in parts of the UK, with just 14.6% of rivers in England achieving Good Ecological Status in the latest assessment.
This is mostly due to agricultural pollution such as nitrates and phosphorous and physical modifications to waterbodies, such as dams, and, sewage.
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, said: ‘Freshwater habitats are some of the most vibrant on earth, but they are in catastrophic decline right around the world. Nature is in freefall and the UK is no exception.
‘It’s regrettable that it takes a legal challenge to persuade Defra to clean up our rivers and restore our freshwater habitats to good health. Ministers have had the power to do this for over a decade; it’s imperative they act now and resource this activity accordingly – England’s vulnerable nature and wildlife cannot afford to wait any longer.’
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